March 3, 2011

Retirement Productivity: an Oxymoron?

Productivity is an overused word in many circles. Some businesses use it to justify having fewer employee doing more work. Government loves to tout any increase in the overall productivity of the economy. Efficiency experts write books about it and conduct endless seminars.

But, what does productivity mean to someone who is retired or moving in that direction?  Aren't retirement and productivity polar opposites, an oxymoron?

No, not at all. Some of the words that are part of the definition of productivity include abundance, fetile, effective, prolific. Aren't those adjectives that help describe a satisfying retirement?

With that clarification, here are a series of things you can do to become more productive from a retirement persepctive. Pick and choose which ones work best for you. Some are polar opposites of each other, but each of us is productive in our ouwn unique way.

1. Delete. Maybe a task or project should simply be eliminated. If it doesn’t need to be done or isn't pleasing to you, get it off your to do list. Too often we get stuck in a rut and repeat an unpleasant task over and over.

2.Daily goals. Without a clear focus, it’s too easy to succumb to distractions. Set targets in advance. Decide what you’ll do and then do it.

3.Worst first. Tackle your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning instead of delaying it until later. It is much too easy to run out of energy, interest, or will power by the end of the day. Sounds like a great idea. Too bad I have real problems implementing this one.

4.Peak times. This may be better for you than #3 just above. If your peak production time is something other than morning, your most difficult or unpleasant task should be done then. Identify when you are firing on all cylinders. Don't waste those moments on secondary stuff.

5.Closed Door Times. Set aside blocks of time for solo work where you must concentrate. That means no interruptions from people, computers, or text messages. Grandkids are exceptions.

6.Mini-milestones. When you begin something identify a target you must reach before you can stop working. For example, when working on a book, you could decide not to get up until you’ve written at least 500 words. Maybe, you want to get all thise new plants in the ground this afternoon. Hit your target no matter what.

7.Timeboxing. Another approach is to give yourself a fixed time period, like 30 minutes, to make a dent in a task. Don’t worry about how far you get, just put in the time.

8.Batching. Especially good for errands, bill paying, or phone calls. Batch similar tasks  into one time slot, and complete them in a single session.

9.Early bird. Get up early in the morning, like at 5AM, and go straight to work on your most important task. You can often get more done before 8am than most people do in a day. Another idea I like, but I have no prayer of implementing. Any more, anything before 6:30 seems like the middle of the night.

10. Cut the Cord. Take a laptop, and go to a place where you can work without WiFi access or distractions. A library, park, or your own backyard. Avoid coffee shops. The temptation to talk and check on-line is just too strong.

11.Up-Tempo-it. Deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual. Speak faster. Walk faster. Type faster. Read faster. For a short period, like 30-45 minutes.

12. 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of the value of a task comes from 20% of the effort. Focus your energy on that critical 20%, and don’t spend much time on the the non-critical 80%.

13.Timer Time. Once you have the information you need to make a decision, start a timer and give yourself just 120 seconds to make the actual decision. Take two minutes to vacillate and second-guess yourself all you want, but come out the other end with a clear choice. Once your decision is made, take some kind of action to set it in motion.

14.Promise. Tell others of your commitments, since they’ll help hold you accountable.  This one works. I finished the e-book three days early to avoid public embarrasement!

15.Punctuality. Whatever it takes, show up on time. Arrive early and show respect for others. There is no such thing as being "fasionably late" except in the movies.

16. Fill reading. Use reading to fill in those odd periods like waiting for an appointment, standing in line, or while the coffee is brewing. In the doctor's office you can finish a good chunck of War and Peace.

17.Gold Star. Remember this from pre-school or kindergarten? Give yourself frequent rewards for achievement. See a movie, book a professional massage, or spend a day doing whatever makes you feel refreshed and rewarded. Do not feel any guilt on your Gold Star Day.

18.Continuum. At the end of your workday, identify the first task you’ll work on the next day, and set out the materials in advance. The next day begin working on that task immediately. That may mean you have to clean up your work space abit. That is a good thing.

19.Slice and dice. Break complex projects into smaller, well-defined tasks. Focus on completing just one of those tasks.

20.Randomize. Pick a totally random piece of a larger project, and complete it. Pay one random bill. Make one phone call. Write page 42 of your book.

21. One Month. Identify a new habit you’d like to form, and commit to sticking with it for just 30 days. A temporary commitment is much easier to keep than a permanent one. At the end of that month, your new habit will likely become.....a habit.

22.Intuition. Go with your gut instinct. It’s probably right.  Don't always wait for confirmation or validation.

23.Delegate. Convince someone else to do it for you. I saved the best for last

While i preach against simplistic, "top 10" list posts, I believe this one is different. The ideas aren't all common sense. Some of these would be good for me. My thanks to fellow blogger Steve Pavlina for the inspiration for this post from an article of his 4 years ago.

What do you do to make the most of each day? Share a tip or trick with us by leaving a comment. That would be a productive thing to do.

"Building a Satisfying Retirement- How to Make the Most of This New Phase of Your Life" e-book is now available. Send an e-mail with "Free Book" in the subject line to satisfyingretirement for your copy. There is no cost or obligation.


  1. very nice compilation
    thank you for the list :)

  2. Thanks Farouk,

    I had fun working on the list, and learned a few things about my own productivity in the process.

  3. Worst first, time boxing, and early bird are my favorites - no procrastinator in me; if I box out time to do something away from distraction, it tends to get done; and as a morning person, I get more done by noon than most do in a day (just like the marines!)

  4. Hey, Dave,

    I'm a "Batch" kind of guy. I pride myself in plotting the perfect errand trip so all I make are right hand turns and still get everything done!

    Seriously, several of these concepts are ones I have used for years but now have snappy labels for my behavior.

  5. Bob,
    That's a great list but anymore I'm finding that I'm not the analytical detail guy I always thought I was. Maybe it was the Astrological shakeup that wrenched me from being a Virgo to a Leo. I now glaze over at lists longer than 5 items. They all sound good. I just need to pick one.

  6. I found out I'm no longer a Taurus but I refuse to accept the shift.

    The funny thing about that list is some are contradictory to others on the same list. I guess that's what makes productivity like nailing jello to a wall...eventually everything slides back to its original level.

  7. I get the most important things done as early in the day as possible. As a morning person, that is the most effective way for me to be the most productive.

    I usually don't do the worst things first, as they tend to set a negative tone to my day.

  8. Good day, Emily.

    I'm a morning person, as long as morning doesn't begin before 6:30. For example, here it is Saturday morning and I'm typing away. I do my best work between 9-11 AM.

    I'm with you on the worst first idea. I need to build up momentum to tackle a chore or task I'd rather not do.

  9. Enjoyed the list
    Missing your posts.

  10. Morning Janette,

    I'm glad you enjoyed the list. I learned some things just putting it together.

    "Missing your posts." I have gone from 3 new posts to 2 new posts a week. Producing something that I was happy with was becoming a strain and no longer fun when it had to be Mon-Wed-Fri.

    Interestingly, my weekly traffic has actually gone up since I went to a Mon-Thurs schedule. There are a few reasons I can think of, but suffice it to say, two posts seems to be working.

    The last two posts have been list-like. I have to be careful to balance informational versus personal. Thanks for your feedback.

  11. Hi Bob,
    I like the idea that I'll still be productive when I retire and specially that I'll have a satisfying retirement. I adore your list. It gave me many ideas to help me stay focused and on task. For your suggestion about using a timer, I like to use this online times:

    BTW,I noticed that you released your ebook. Congrats! It looks great. I also love the title.

    Loving blessings

  12. Hi Andrea,

    Yes, you can be very productive when you retire. Of course, it is possible to sit around all day and contribute nothing. But, that is not very satisfying, is it?

    I will check out that timer link. That might make its way onto my desktop!

    Yes, I'm pleased with the book so far. The response has been better than I thought and it is on a few other download sites.

    Note: Readers...check out Andrea's blog. She is one of the most positive and uplifting people on the Internet. She has an e-book that is worth your time, too.

  13. Hey, Bob... What a great list! Reading through it, I kept thinking that you had omitted delegation. Then, right there at the end, there it was. Neat surprise for us readers. Chronologically, I'd put delegation right after delete. First I'd figure out what needed to get done and what didn't. Then I'd figure out who was to do it, the other guy or I. Reminds me of my recent decision about paying the other guy to build the shelves in the garage. Bill

  14. Hi Dave,

    Actually I originally had delegation higher on the list but liked the simplicity to wrap things up. As I get older I delegate as much as I can.